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How Music Can Boost a High-Intensity Workout


Intense workouts can make you fitter and healthier even if you exercise for relatively short periods at a time. However, many people avoid strenuous workouts because exercising near their physical limits is uncomfortable. But what if there was something easy you could do to make hard workouts more tolerable? A recent study suggests that listening to music while you exercise can change how you perceive the discomfort of intense activity. Simply tuning into your playlist through headphones can help you find the motivation to keep working out.

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Photo Featured: MonsterProducts Sports Earbuds


What Is a High-Intensity Interval?

Intervals are brief all-out efforts, such as running or cycling sprints, separated by a few minutes of rest. Individual sessions last for a total of about 20 minutes.

Benefits of Intervals

Runners and other athletes use intervals in their training to improve speed and strength. Some scientists believe that high-intensity workouts can benefit nearly everyone, not just elite athletes. Interval training improves fitness, may reduce the risk of some chronic diseases, and can be as effective as longer more moderate workouts.

Music Changes Perceptions of Intense Exercise

Getting better fitness results in less time is an attractive idea, but most people don’t like the punishing intensity of intervals. As reported in a recent study, Matthew Stork, a graduate student at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, set out to see if music could alter exercisers perceptions. McMaster wanted to study how music might affect the brain and make intervals more enjoyable.

Previous studies, Stork knew, had found that people who worked out to music were able to tap into more energy and feel less bored. Those studies usually tested people who were working out continuously at a low to moderate level.

Stork wanted to study music’s effect on strenuous exercise. To do so, he found 20 young, healthy adults who had never used interval training. The volunteers rode stationary bikes in a lab. They pedaled as hard as they could for 30 seconds and then rested for four minutes. They repeated the cycle four times. Scientists measured power output and gauged perceived exertion.

The initial session was followed by more sessions, including some in which the volunteers were allowed to listen to music of their choosing. The scientists took the same measurements and asked the same questions for all the sessions. The exercisers reported that all the intervals were difficult, and music didn’t make them seem easier. However, there was one significant difference: When volunteers listened to music, their power output increased.

When they pedaled with or without music, the volunteers said the workouts rated an eight or higher on a scale from zero to ten in unpleasantness. They should’ve felt worse at the higher level of work, but they didn’t. They were able to work harder at the same perceived effort.

Fascinating Rhythms

Scientists don’t know why music helps people exercise harder. Stork’s theory is that perhaps the music’s rhythm elicits an arousal response from the body, exciting a higher reaction somehow.

Music can’t make hard exercise seem easy, but it can make it less unpleasant. So the next time you need inspiration to get moving, pick up your MP3 player, slip on your headphones, and start grooving to the music.


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